DoD Officials: Local Forces in Libya, Syria Gain Ground Against ISIL
Local forces engaged in tough fighting in Libya and Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are gaining ground against the terrorist army, a Defense Department spokesman said today.
In Sirte, on the south coast of Libya's Gulf of Sidra, forces aligned with Libya’s Government of National Accord have reduced the territory under ISIL control by about a third over the last week, Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Trowbridge told reporters at the Pentagon. The forces, supported by U.S. precision air strikes, continue to take over structures that ISIL had inhabited and once used to launch attacks on friendly forces, he said.
Several locations there were recognizable power centers for ISIL, including a conference center and the Amina Hotel, ISIL's eastern stronghold in the city, the deputy press secretary said.
“This advance is a testament to the determination of those GNA-aligned forces who have been aided by the precision air power and the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of the U.S. military,” Trowbridge said.
“Just as we have [done] in Iraq and Syria,” he added, “the coalition's counter-ISIL efforts in Libya are built on the notion that the way to deal ISIL a lasting defeat -- one that sticks -- is by supporting capable, motivated local forces that not only can defeat ISIL today, but keep it from rearing its ugly head tomorrow.”
In Syria, although the Syrian Democratic Forces continue fighting to recapture the city of Manbij from ISIL, the terrorist army is “clearly on the ropes,” Trowbridge said.
ISIL has lost the city center and has lost control of Manbij, he added, noting that there are still pockets of opposition in the north of the city, but the SDF has made significant progress in wresting control of Manbij from ISIL
The coalition also has strong evidence that ISIL forces are seeking to flee the city, Trowbridge said.
“That … is a major setback for ISIL at the hands of our partners the SDF, including thousands of Syrian Arab troops that are fighting to liberate their own homes. It is also the latest significant milestone in the coalition's efforts to cut off and eliminate a hub of ISIL activity located outside Syria,” he added.
Manbij has served as a hub for recruiting and processing foreign fighters, the deputy press secretary said, and for dispatching operatives across the Turkish border for potential use in external operations.
“ISIL's inevitable defeat in Manbij does real damage to ISIL's capability in those areas,” he added.
As ISIL forces try to run, Trowbridge said the Pentagon is receiving reports that fighters continue to intermix with innocent civilians to use them as human shields -- a practice that has not yet been independently confirmed, he noted.
But, the deputy press secretary said, “ISIL has consistently shown a willingness to put innocent lives at risk in blatant violation not only of the laws of armed conflict but of common human decency.”
Meanwhile, Trowbridge added, the Syrian Democratic Forces are exercising great care to prevent civilian casualties and unnecessary damage to Manbij’s civic infrastructure -- a challenge because of ISIL’s practice of mining city structures as its fighters flee an area.
Trowbridge said that since May 21, SDF forces have liberated more than 1,000 square kilometers of territory from ISIL, and that supporting coalition forces have destroyed more than 50 ISIL heavy weapons, taken out more than 600 fortified fighting positions, blown up more than 150 ISIL battle vehicles and eliminated a number of ISIL car bombs while conducting more than 680 precision kinetic strikes.
“The coalition also has provided significant amounts of equipment and specialized training to the SDF, he said, “covering everything from training in small-unit tactics to helping them learn how to defeat those ISIL improvised explosive devices.”